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Research question 3: Will the use of microblogs result in people feeling like they are part of communities where they can reach out to each other for assistance?

A very illustrative quote from a participant sums up the power of the ability to ask questions through Yammer, which we must remember, is the most common use of the tool:

I can tap into corporate knowledge; I can ask: “Have we done a project like this before?”

In this quote, the participant actually comes right out and says he/she uses to tool to tap into corporate knowledge, but in fact, so many of the examples we saw earlier in this and other categories as well, are examples of people tapping into the knowledge of the corporation. When people share interesting information, work activities, knowledge, their opinions on what works and what doesn’t work, their reports during real time events, their locations, their interests, or when they engage in discussions during Yam Jams (live chats), they are sharing information valued by their peers as illustrated by the many examples and quotes shared in this study, and interestingly enough they almost all tie back to learning and/or performance support opportunities:

I learned about a new technology through a link to an article that I have never seen before.

I frequently post updates on what the usability team is working on so people are aware and they can make use of the group, there is no other good channel to make people aware.

I have been looking for PM tools and people post links to things and tools that makes my job more efficient so that has been helpful in particular.

We’ve just been rolling out windows 7 on a pilot basis and we are seeing a lot of good knowledge sharing on the good and bad is taking place in yammer and we are getting a lot of valuable feedback that we could not have gotten the other way which is the helpdesk system.

Even for the people who are venting, to some extent, they are showing you things and perspectives you may not otherwise know and they are probably speaking in the name of others who are not.

We can see things are going on in the city such as a student march/demonstrations or special events and we can report on it to each other really quickly and real time; it is useful for the people working out on the street.

We have a lot of people in marketing who post about events on behalf of the company and post where they are at what trade show and I will suggest great ideas of how to talk to people about our products (participant has insight from a trainer perspective).

The CFO had a really fun time doing the Yam Jam and she shared a ton of info about what is going on with the company.

We had a person in industry marketing, who is in another country, who I don’t run into frequently, and he posted about mobile projects he wants to work on. We got into a discussion and now we are working on pilot projects that probably would not have happened had we not been using the microblog.

Therefore, using the tool in all these ways just mentioned helps people tap into corporate knowledge through tapping into a community of colleagues willing and able to share and help, one might say they are tapping into a community of practice. Wenger (1998, p. 8) explains: “learning is an issue of sustaining the interconnected communities of practice through which an organization knows what it knows and thus becomes effective and valuable as an organization.” Tapping into corporate knowledge also falls into the category of knowledge management, through people. One participant sheds light on why he/she uses Yammer:

I think I benefit from everything people post. This is a looking glass into my entire organization.

In a community of practice people “value their collective competence and learn from each other…” (Wenger, 2010).

The study did not find sharing non-work-related posts as providing the ability to tap into corporate knowledge, but the argument could be made, and participants have also said, that non-work-related posts reveal their personalities and allow people to get to know each other more closely. Still there are others who might find this to be unnecessary “noise” in the system. In fact, 12% (3) participants did mention that they perceive there is too much “noise” in the system and it can be distracting.

However, when participants were asked: Does using Yammer make you feel like you are part of a community of colleagues to whom you can turn to for help on the job? Table 27 demonstrates that an amazing 96% (24) said “yes” to this question, one participant also added:

…there has been no other tool that has offered that (making a person feel like they are part of a community where they can reach out to each other for assistance) in my opinion.

Let’s cross examine this answer by exploring why people value Yammer to understand if in fact people feel like they are a part of a community of people to whom they can turn to for help on the job.

Table 31: Why Participants Value Yammer, it provides the ability to Frequency Percent
1. receive answers in moment of need 21 84%
2. communicate 19 76%
2.1.   communicate like never before (unlike email) 15 60%
2.2.   communicate across geographic areas 12 48%
2.3.   communicate across silos 9 36%
2.4.   communicate across time zones and geographic areas 8 32%
3. receive good information, filtered   by colleagues 16 64%
4. find people/experts 8 32%
5. gain insight into the organization 8 32%
6. make people feel connected to the   organization 7 28%
7. help “new” employees get   acclimated/become productive 3 12%
8. provides short snippets of   information that are easy to digest 2 8%

Given that the most frequent reason brought up by 84% (21) of participants, highlighted that people valued the tool’s ability to provide answers in the moment of need reinforces what we already know that Yammer can be used as an informal learning and performance support tool, but it also speaks volumes to the fact that people feel they can reach out through Yammer and get responses that will help them in a timely fashion. “Informal learning is effective because it is personal, just-in-time, customized, and the learner is motivated and open to receiving it. It also has greater credibility and relevance” (p. 17). The perceived most effective aspect of an EPSS is the advisory, job-oriented or problem solving components (Chang, 2004).

The second category with many subcategories all have to do with communication, 76% (19). It is clear participants value the tool’s ability to open up communications in a number of ways: 36% (9) highlighted the importance of Yammer’s ability to break down silos, 48% (12) mentioned communicating across geographic areas, and 32% (8) of participants talked about using the tool to communicate “real time” across time zones. Many participants 60% (15) were very spirited about pointing out that Yammer was in fact unlike email. They explained that this is because you would not share “for your information” type content, like what you are working on, in a mass email but you would easily post it on Yammer. You might also not send out information and knowledge in a mass email, but once again, you would post it on Yammer. The tool breaks down boundaries and encourages informal serendipitous communication, as illustrated by these quotes:

(Yammer) Opens up the silos and opened grass roots level communication within the organization.

…we are spread across three offices; if we did not Yammer we would not know what the other is doing and we can’t sit in one office and open our mouth and talk to each other.

We can conclude that most participants really valued their ability to communicate with colleagues through the use of Yammer and this was growing or strengthening their association with various Yammer community members.

The third most frequent reason indicated by 64% (16) of participants said they valued the information that is filtered for them, or handpicked by their colleagues. Participants pointed out that they appreciated their colleagues sharing the “real gems” and acting as a “human search engine.” This indicates that the community proactively provides support in the form of different types of information or knowledge, so we shouldn’t only think of performance support as one colleague helping another with the task at hand. In fact more traditional forms of performance support tools package and bring expert knowledge to users, this being a key goal in creating an EPSS (Hile, et al., 1994).

Finding experts is another reason why 32% (8) of participants mention valuing Yammer. The following quote really explains why this is valuable.

The knowledge in the organization has become visible and you start to notice who the gurus are.

In this researcher’s opinion, one of the most power features of Yammer is its ability to make visible who the experts in an organization are. In this researcher’s experience of over 20 years, finding the experts has always been a challenge for large corporations. A tool that brings the experts to light is a very powerful component of helping a community learn and develop.

Gaining insight into the organization was also a category that emerged from the interviews; 32% (8) of participants mentioned this. Quote from participant:

I like the microblog and all microblogging in general as a way to communicate or to gage the culture of the company.

It is fascinating to think of Yammer this way but in fact it really is a tool that you can use to better understand everything about the company: what people say, how they say it, what they don’t say sheds light on company culture. In any community, understanding the explicit and implicit do’s and don’ts enable us to function optimally. This leads us to the next most valuable category.

It certainly makes sense based on the above that 28% (7) of participants cited the tools ability to make people feel connected to the organization. This feeling of connectedness strengthens the community.

Helping new employees get acclimated and productive is another powerful aspect of Yammer; 12% (3) of participants mentioned this. New employees generally don’t know who to ask for what—where to go for help. The ability of the Yammer community to quickly answer new hire’s questions can have a great impact on how fast new hires become productive and how welcomed they feel by the organization. Participant quote:

…it (Yammer) is good for people who don’t know where to go for answers.

Lastly, 8% (2) of participants said they valued Yammer because of its ability to provide short snippets of information that are easy to consume. This speaks to Yammer efficiency at information capturing and dissemination, Yammer only shows you a short snippet, even when people write longer entries, so you only have to read a little to decide if you are interested in reading more.

We can see that many of the reasons why participants cited using Yammer are in some way connected to activities that highlight the presence of a community. Wenger (1998) highlights an obvious yet very compelling point that we are always learning and we are always participating in various communities from work groups to families. Therefore, learning is situated in a given context and part of that context is a given community, therefore learning is also social (Wenger, 1998).

Wenger describes three key characteristics of communities of practice: domain, community and practice (Wenger, 2010). A domain does not equate to an area of expertise; in fact, members can have different areas of expertise within the same domain. Wenger (2010) goes on to elaborate in each of the three characteristics. A community is defined as a group of people who interact and learn from each other as they pursue their domain. Finally, communities of practice do in fact share a “practice”. Therefore, different people with different titles are still all practitioners in the domain.

When we think about communities in organizations, they are in the same domain or field or industry, albeit with various different roles and titles. The data in this study shows that they value their collective competence, and are various groups of people who interact and learn from each other as they pursue their domain—they do in fact share a practice. This could mean two different things: 1. Everyone in an organization shares the same broad practice as being part of a domain. So, in a car manufacturing organization everyone ultimately contributes to cars being manufactured, and 2. It may also mean that subgroups of people who share the same, more specific practice evolve, such as all the human resource personnel in the car manufacturing organization. The data in this study with the many rich examples supports the notion that both of these types of communities of practice have emerged in corporations.

“Communities develop their practice through a variety of activities. The following table provides a few typical examples:” (Wenger, 2010) Checkmarks in Table 32 depict all the examples encountered as part of this study of 25 participants and their organizations.

Table 32: Examples of CoP Activities in this Study

1.   Problem solving “Can we work on this design and   brainstorm some ideas; I’m stuck.”
2.   Requests for information “Where can I find the code to   connect to the server?”
3.   Seeking experience “Has anyone dealt with a   customer in this situation?”
4.   Reusing assets “I have a proposal for a local   area network I wrote for a client last year. I can send it to you and you can   easily tweak it for this new client.”
5.   Coordination and synergy “Can we combine our purchases   of solvent to achieve bulk discounts?”
6.   Discussing developments “What do you think of the new   CAD system? Does it really help?”
7.   Documentation projects “We have faced this problem   five times now. Let us write it down once and for all.”
8. Visits “Can we come and see your   after-school program? We need to establish one in our city.”
9.   Mapping knowledge and identifying gaps “Who knows what, and what are   we missing? What other groups should we connect with?”

 

This is a section of a research study, to read more, go to the Table of Contents.

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Research question 2: Does the reading of status messages posted on a microblog lead to employees learning something new or receiving assistances with their jobs?

We said above that sharing work activities was the only one true category that we can say for certain helped people uncover what each other is working on. The hypothesis was that when people see what others are working on they will lend a helping hand and through this interaction people would learn and receive assistance with their jobs. We learned however, that this was not the only category that led to learning and performance support.

Do reading Yammer posts, that prompt participants to reach out to each other, contribute to learning and performance?

When we asked: Have you ever reached out to someone because of their status message, or has someone ever reached out to you because of your status message Table 13 shows that 96% (24) said “yes.” What prompts them to reach out to each other? The study found that people did not generally reach out to each other prompted by a work activity update; they did however reach out to help when asked a question. Only 8% (2) of participants had an interaction due to a work activity update (see Table 14). While it makes sense that submitting a question would be the number one reason for interaction with 75% (18), it is sharing interesting information that comes in second with 17% (4) and sharing knowledge comes in as third with 13% (3). That means participants reach out more to each other because of industry news, tips and best practices that are posted, than they do because of work activity updates. This finding was contrary to the hypothesis that work activity updates would prompt people to reach out relatively frequently, to offer a helping hand.

Still, it is important to understand that when people did reach out and interact, generally how relevant was the information that prompted them to reach out; how relevant to the task at hand? Table 15, shows that 71% (17) of participants said that they reached out because the post was very much or extremely relevant to the task they were working on at the time. This makes sense given that people are more likely to engage when content is relevant to them (Ambrose, et al., 2010, p. 83) We can conclude that even though participants did not reach out as often when reading work activity updates as they did when reading a questions, interesting information, or knowledge; they did reach out, for the most part, because those categories had posts that were relevant to what they were working on at the time. We knew this was a possibility from the examples participants shared in these categories that we reviewed earlier, but this cross check supports the notion that people will reach out more often, when the information shared on Yammer is directly relevant to what they are working on at the time.

How much did participants value the interaction? Amazing to see that 100% (24) of participants said they valued the interaction either very much or extremely, see Table 16. How often does this happen? In other words it might not be worth using the tool if it only happens on occasion. The majority, 55% (13) said frequently and always, as depicted by Table 17. This suggests that Yammer is useful most of the time, as a learning and ultimately performance support and enhancement tool based on the notion that people reach out to each other and learn from and help each other with work. This makes sense when considering that through continuous, authentic, situated, collaborative activity, people can improve their performance (Brown, et al., 1989).However, what about all the posts that don’t result in someone reaching out to another?

Do reading Yammer posts contribute to learning and performance when people don’t reach out to each other?

When asked: Have you ever benefitted from reading a status updates that did not result in you reaching out to a colleague or a colleague reaching out to you? The answer was unanimously “yes” as depicted by Table 18. How relevant was this information to what you were working on at the time—to the task at hand? Table 19 shows that most, 56% (14) participants selected very much or extremely. How much did you value the update (the post)? It makes sense that 80% (20) of participants said that if they benefitted from a status update, they either very much or extremely valued the information (Table 20). However, how often does this happen? Is it often enough to really provide value? Table 21 depicts that the majority, 64% (16) of participants said this happens either frequently or always. It is interesting that over half the participants said they frequently or always find posts that benefit them and over half also said they frequently or always reach out because of posts. This indicates that most participants found using Yammer beneficial overall and more than half the time they read posts or engage in interactions because of Yammer that are directly related to what they are working on at the time. The most effective performance support is context specific and provides assistance with a given task in a given situation (Tessmer & Richey, 1997).

Connections, Learning and Performance Improvement

Our hypothesis was that through Yammer, people make connections and those connections lead to learning and people assisting each other with work, performance support, and ultimately performance improvement. Table 22 shows that 60% (15) of participants made statements where they explicitly said they made connections through the use of Yammer that they believe may not have otherwise happened. Quote from participant:

People who come together may never have met each other any other way. Main uses of Yammer are to bring people together.

While only 36% (9) gave examples where they explicitly said they learned something new, however, 88% (22) of participants gave examples of receiving assistance with work. It is probable that participants realized they were learning but did not happen to mention that they were aware of this, or they may not have realized that they were learning through the assistance they were receiving with work. Peter Henschel, former director of the Institute for Research on Learning (IRL), said (Cross, 2007, p. xiii): “People are learning all the time, in varied settings and often most effectively in the context of work itself.” The majority of participants did make connections and ultimately received assistance with work. These findings support the hypothesis that Yammer can be used as a learning and performance support tool. Researchers agree that performance support systems can help improve communication and, ultimately, performance (Ahmad, 2009; Bayram & Crossman, 1997; Chang, 2007; Gamson, 1994; Marion, 2002; Raybould, 1995).

When, participants were directly asked to reflect on their learning and development, Table 23 displays the results of this question and depicts that 2, 3 and 4 (on a scale of 1-5, 5=greatest contribution to learning), were the most frequently selected. When managers were asked to assess how much learning their teams have experience through the use of Yammer, Table 25 shows that the most frequently selected number was 3 out of 5.

As for Yammer’s contribution to their effectiveness and efficiency, Table 24 displays that individual contributors most frequently selected 4 on a 5-point scale and Table 26 shows that managers most frequently selected 2. This backs up this researcher’s experience that managers are not as convinced of the benefits of using Yammer as individual contributors. Yet we must not forget that most participants benefited from reading Yammer posts and that most of the time those posts were directly relevant to what they were working on, and that 88% (22) of participants gave examples of receiving assistance with work and that the majority of participants said that benefiting from posts happens frequently.

We can conclude that on some level participants did perceive that Yammer is contributing to their learning, development, effectiveness and efficiency. “EPSS are primarily applicable in the workplace to promote learning and offer immediate performance guidance” (Ahmad, 2009, p. 8)

This is a section of a research study, to read more, go to the Table of Contents.

Introduction

This research was conducted across 25 companies that varied in size from 5 to over 200,000 employees with the goal of understanding if and how the use of Yammer: affects learning and ultimately impacts performance, and helps create communities of practice. More specifically, the hypothesis was that through the use of sharing work activity updates and questions, colleagues would gain a lot more insight into what each other is working on, what tasks they are focused on in a given timeframe, and would inspire coworkers to reach out to each other to provide assistance.

Discussion of Results

Research question 1: Does using a microblog in the workplace allow employees to become more aware of what each other is doing?

The original hypothesis was that people primarily use Yammer to ask questions and answer the question: What are you working on? The answers would reveal peoples’ work activities. Why is it important to uncover if employees’ work activities are uncovered through the use of Yammer? Because skills are acquired through continuous authentic activity in authentic contexts and by communicating with peers and experts about those activities in those contexts (Herrington & Oliver, 1995) The first step is to understanding if people are acquiring new skills is to understand what people are doing, or their work activities, can be revealed through Yammer. Once people know what the other is working on they can join forces and learn from each other and help each other. Researchers agree that knowledge is the result of collaborative construction in a situated cognition environment (Ahmad, 2009; Bransford, et al., 1990).

However, the study uncovered that work activity updates and questions are just some of the many ways that participants use Yammer (see Table 30). As we can observe, the top ways that Yammer is used (top meaning 50% or more participants said they use the tool in this manner) are for:

  1. Asking and answering questions, 84% (21) of participants responded this way.
  2. Posting interesting information such as news, articles and event, 80% (20) of participants responded this way. This category is defined as information that does not have a direct impact on a person’s day-to-day tasks, unlike the how to’s of the knowledge category.
  3. Updating people on their work activities, 68% (17) of participants responded this way.
  4. Posting knowledge in the form of tips, best practices and tools, 52% (13) of participants responded this way. This category is defined as containing all the types of information that can help people with their day-to-day activities on the job.
Table 30: Yammer Experiences Mentioned by Participants, What people read   about and post Frequency Percent Value*
1. QUESTIONS AND   ANSWERS 21 84% 5
2. INTERESTING   INFORMATION (news, articles, events) 20 80% 5
3. WORK ACTIVITIES 17 68% 5
3.1. what a person/team is working on 16 64% 5
3.2. meeting updates, follow ups 3 12% 3
4. KNOWLEDGE (tips,   best practices) 13 52% 5
5. OPINIONS 11 44% 4
5.1. feedback on products and services 4 16% 5
5.2. complaints 4 16% 3,5
5.3. praise for a job well done 3 12% 4
6. REPORTS during a   real-time event 6 24% 5
7. LOCATIONS 3 12% 5
8. NON-WORK-RELATED INFORMATION 3 12% 5
8.1. personal information 2 8% 5
8.2. jokes 1 4% 4
9. YAM JAM threads,   live chats 2 8% 4
10. INTERESTS, opportunities people are seeking 1 4% 4
* The most frequent (mode) value   participants assigned to each type of experience: 1=not at all, 2=not very   much, 3=somewhat, 4=very much, 5=extremely
Bold=Good and typical experiences, Not Bold=Good but not typical   experiences, Italics=Bad experiences
Note: There weren’t any typical   experiences that weren’t also good experiences, in other words, all typical   experiences were also good experiences

The study uncovered that, of the top uses, only work activity updates consistently uncover what people are working on, as stated by 68% (17) of participants. The study confirmed that questions also have a tendency to uncover status because 84% (21) of participants who said they use the tool this way, all gave examples that illustrated people asking for help on work-related information or activities. However, we cannot assume this is always the case which is why this category was not grouped with the work activities category.

While the other categories also had the ability to shed light on what a person was working on, and many examples previously mentioned highlighted this, we should not assume that they always do.

Interesting that when participants were asked: Has using Yammer changed your level of awareness with regards to what your colleagues are doing? (See Table 12) The majority, 60% (15) of participants thought Yammer has changed their level of awareness very much or extremely with regards to what their colleagues are doing. This may seem contradictory, but when we consider that 68% (17) of participants said they share their status, which by nature means they post what they are working on, and 84% (21), said they use Yammer for asking and answering questions—and we know many questions, all our examples, were work-related and uncovered what a person was working on, the findings are consistent.

What about the relatively large group of participants, 80% (20), said they use Yammer to share interesting information, or the 52% (13) who said they share knowledge? (Interesting information is defined as industry news which by nature is not intended to help anyone directly with the task at hand, unlike the tips in the knowledge category.) As stated earlier, neither of these, nor any other categories helped consistently uncover what a person is doing, but does that mean that they don’t have an impact on learning and therefore performance? Let’s explore the answer to this question by continuing our discussion and addressing research question 2.

This is a section of a research study, to read more, go to the Table of Contents.

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